Talking City's 2021/22 A-League Women's season preview
Following a season where our Women’s side rescued a seventh-placed finish from the clutches of a Wooden Spoon race whilst our greatest rival stormed toward its second W-League championship, pressure on the playing group to perform to its potential may never have been as high as it is ahead of Season 2021/22.
With Rado Vidosic returning to the helm for a fourth season and eager to avoid a third Finals miss in that tenure, he’ll be counting on the benefits of a rare full pre-season with the majority of players joining early to achieve a successful outcome in the new year.
Ahead of a season pivotal to City’s reputation as a leader in women’s football in Australia, here is Talking City’s preview of the 2021/22 A-League Women’s season.
We optimistically wrote last pre-season that whilst Vidosic’s squad had obviously been heavily depleted from its 2019/20 double-winning best, Finals – and even a Grand Final – appearance weren’t totally out of the question and would have been a proud achievement for the club under the circumstances.
What ensued over the following 12 games can be described as nothing short of a significant failure against the playing group’s own potential.
Whilst it wasn’t packed with Matildas (we still had THREE, if you include Micah), last season’s squad was still one of the league’s better sides on paper. Incredibly, however, a first-ever wooden spoon still looked a very real possibility before a three-game winning streak against the league’s weaker sides made the season appear marginally better than it was.
Goalkeepers: Melissa Barbieri, Coco Majstorovic, Sally James (long-term injury)
Defenders: Emma Checker, Rebekah Stott, Marisa van der Meer, Chelsea Blissett, Kaitlyn Torpey, Tori Tumeth, Tyla-Jay Vlajnic, Naomi Chinnama, Winonah Heatley
Midfielders: Leah Davidson, Leticia McKenna, Rhianna Pollicina, Darcey Malone, Meisha Westland, Isabella Accardo (scholarship)
Forwards: Hannah Wilkinson, Holly McNamara, Caitlyn Karic
Predicted Starting Lineup
Checker – Stott – Chinnama
Heatley – Davidson – McKenna – Pollicina – Torpey
McNamara – Wilkinson
Based on the personnel named in City’s pre-season friendly against Victory and Vidosic’s historical fondness of the 3-5-2 formation, we’re anticipating that formation again for this season.
There could be real competition for that third centre-back spot alongside Checker and Stott, with Chinnama, van der Meer and Tumeth all in contention. Whilst one would be inclined to go with the more senior van der Meer or Tumeth, the fact that Chinnama started the last five games of the 2020/21 campaign shows that a lot of faith has been placed in the 17-year-old and we’re confident that the youngster will continue her upward trajectory in the new season.
Out wide, we’ve gone with former-Roar duo Heatley and Torpey given their performances for the league runners-up last season, but they’ll face competition from the likes of Tumeth, Blissett and Vlajnic.
The great enigma is who will partner with Wilkinson up top if Vidosic does go with a 3-5-2. City’s only other out-and-out striker is 18-year-old Holly McNamara, who apparently performed well in the pre-season friendly and scored City’s second of the match. For lack of a better option, she features alongside Wilkinson in our predicted lineup.
Melbourne City 2-0 Melbourne Victory – Match report
Assumed formation based on named starters:
Vlajnic – Tumeth – Chinnama – Checker – Torpey
Pollicina – Westland – Malone
McNamara – Wilkinson
One to Watch
Normally we love to save this one for a player that we’re tipping for a huge breakout campaign, but this season the stakes are too high for our eyes to be on anyone other than our big forward recruit, Hannah Wilkinson.
The veteran Football Fern needs to hit the ground running, as City severely struggled for goals last season without a recognised senior striker.
Wilkinson has forged a respectable career in Europe without ever being especially prolific in regards to her goalscoring output, so fans will hope that she can buck that trend and have a big season for City.
On The Rise (U21)
A late inclusion to the City squad, having only been announced this week, but possibly one of our best acquisitions of the off-season, Winonah Heatley could be an integral link between attack and defence for City this season.
Heatley had a breakout campaign with league runners-up Brisbane Roar in 2020/21, with the versatile defender scoring a goal and keeping five clean sheets on her way to receiving a Matildas call-up in September.
The 20-year-old’s defensive prowess earned her interest abroad, with Swedish side Växjö DFF swooping to bring Heatley into the fold in August, but the full-back made just two Allsvenskan appearances before her return to Australia with City.
A prime candidate to play at right wing-back in Vidosic’s 3-5-2 system, Heatley will be looking to contribute goals and assists for City whilst ensuring sound defensive performances at the back as she looks to keep herself around the Matildas fold.
Keys to a successful season
The man at the helm
There is little room for underperformance this season for Rado Vidosic.
Without a stacked squad to simply outplay other teams, so much of our fortunes will come down to Vidosic’s managerial performance and how he guides an objectively talented and A-League quality squad to execute his pre-season vision.
With a full pre-season in which the majority of the squad were able to train together for the first time in years, Vidosic should have had the necessary preparation period to have these players ready to perform to their potential. The only question that remains is: Can he lead the team to a successful outcome in 2021/22?
Can talented individuals replicate their past form?
Whilst Vidosic will be under pressure to get his side performing, there remain tough questions to be answered by certain players at the individual level. Can Rebekah Stott recapture her best form having spent so long out of the game? How quickly can Chelsea Blissett progress her development following her ACL injury? Will the likes of Leticia McKenna, Winonah Heatley and Kaitlyn Torpey – crucial cogs in a high-performing Brisbane Roar outfit – be able to replicate that form for City?
Finding a reliable route to goal
With a defensive unit that appears incredibly strong – and deep – on paper, fans’ attention will be turned to the other end of the pitch, where City struggled to make things happen in Season 2020/21 due to a lack of a recognised striker.
With Hannah Wilkinson set to be our high-profile striker up top, there will be immense pressure on the 29-year-old to find the back of the net consistently throughout 2021/22.
However, the goalscoring burden shouldn’t fall entirely on the Kiwi’s shoulders, with goals from our wing-backs and midfielders also crucial.
Most interestingly, though, will be finding out who Vidosic selects to partner Wilkinson in our predicted front two and whether they’ll combine well with the veteran striker to provide City with a lethal strike force up top.
How you can get involved
With the Wellington Phoenix entering a team for 2021/22, the A-League Women’s competition will see teams play 14 games – up from 12 and two byes last season – so there are more opportunities than usual to watch the City girls play.
Eight of City’s fixtures will take place in Victoria, with seven home games and an additional Melbourne Derby against the Victory.
If you can’t wait to get down to your first City Women’s game for the season then you’re in luck, because the team will spend five consecutive games (Round 2 – Round 6) in Victoria following its season opener away to Canberra United.
Several home games will be played at AAMI Park, making for an ideal central location, whilst some will also be played at Bentleigh Greens’ Kingston Heath Soccer Complex. Make sure you check the fixture to double-check the venue before heading on your way to a game, just to be safe.
Every match of the 2021/22 A-League Women’s season will be available to watch on Paramount+, whilst one game every round will be broadcast on 10Bold and 10 Play every Sunday afternoon.
City’s Round 2 Derby on December 12 and Round 4 Derby on December 26 will definitely be on free-to-air, whilst our Round 5 match against Newcastle on January 2, Round 6 match against Wellington on January 9, Round 9 match against Western Sydney Wanderers on February 6 and Round 11 match against Sydney FC on February 20 also fall on Sunday afternoons but have not yet been confirmed for free-to-air coverage.